Firms scoring between a so-so 60% and a very good 80% for work/life balance in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2019 survey received mixed reports from staff.
At DAC Beachcroft (80%) a senior lawyer praised the firm for its trusting partners: "if you work hard, it's unlikely you will ever be questioned for leaving on time or working from home". One senior lawyer summed up: "I see my kids and don't really have to work on the weekends" before channelling Farmer Hoggett "that'll do pig, that'll do". Another lawyer felt that the firm's work-life balance was "the trade off for relatively low pay".
At Irwin Mitchell (76%), a number of lawyers felt that there was a similar quid pro quo. "We aren't paid enough for it to be any different" said one lawyer, who commended the "brilliant" work/life balance. Another lawyer said that while the firm's flexible working was "a step in the right direction", staff were required to heavily get involved in extra-curricular work such as business development and CSR. Another lawyer agreed that there were "so many internal meetings" but "no discussion about how this impacts chargeable time". However, a trainee said that overall the "hours are very good" and they weren't expected to work weekends.
Shearman & Sterling was the top-performing US firm for work/life balance. Its score of 76% was particularly decent for a firm that also achieved a high rating for pay. One member of staff said that it was "the best work/life balance" they''d had "on a salary like this one". A lawyer gave the firm a high score as they noted that although work/life balance was "always a challenge" they felt "autonomy to allocate my time is respected". However, for others it was a question of perspective. A trainee said while "it could be worse" there was still "an assumption that you should have your work phone surgically attached to you". Another trainee also thinking in medical terms believed junior doctors "have it worse".
At Burges Salmon, (75%) staff were mostly very pleased with the work/life balance. One trainee said that "I genuinely have the best boss in the business. Flexibility might not be his actual middle name, but I think a deed poll should be arranged". A junior lawyer said that "on the whole" the balance was "very good". But noted that "it differs a lot across departments" and that there are "capacity issues across certain departments". One NQ complained that despite being "sold the dream of doing fantastic work" and seeing his family in the evening, he had to work long hours. He believed "the reality is that the firm's direction has shifted, and we want to be at the London Big Boy Table". A senior lawyer, taking a different view said that occasional long hours were needed "to meet client needs". But that "overall" work/life balance was "excellent".
The quality of work/life balance at Macfarlanes (72%) also seemed to depend on the department. A senior lawyer said "I feel sorry for the guys in Corporate but in Private Client the balance is just right". A trainee accepted that while "weekday plans aren't possible" at least "weekends are almost exclusively ours". A senior lawyer also praised the firm for its flexible approach of "an excellent once-a-fortnight work from home policy".
At the lower end of the table, BCLP (65%) was criticised for having "inflexible working practices". An NQ said that their hours were "only slightly better than my Magic Circle brothers and sisters". Although another NQ was happy to report that "holidays are taken seriously". A junior lawyer complained of the unpredictable nature of the work: "we tend to work all hours or no hours - neither is ideal".
For the US firms at the middling section of the table, there was also a sense of the unforeseeable peaks and troughs. At White & Case (63%) a senior lawyer reported that "you kill yourself at times and have nothing to do at other times". A junior lawyer agreed that while the hours could be "sometimes awful" it was "par for the course" and "when it's quiet, there is no pressure at all to stay past 5.30pm (or to come in at all)".
At Weil (61%) a senior lawyer said that similarly, the work pattern "varies greatly depending on the department/time period" and that "long hours will always be a fact of life at US outfits". However, a junior lawyer was pleased to announce "I sometimes have dinner at home".
Romantic frozen lasagne for one. Boom.
At Latham & Watkins (60%), a junior lawyer put it philosophically: "sometimes it's fine, other times it's shite - but that's City law for you".